Mexican cuisine has been pairing grilled corn with cheese for centuries. That set me thinking about what elote would taste like if it had been invented in Italy (and if Italians traditionally grilled corn, period, which they're finally starting to do). Imagine smoky-sweet grilled corn with sizzling garlic butter and fragrant basil. The only decision you need to make is whether to crust the corn with sweet Parmigiano-Reggiano or tangy-sharp sheep's milk Pecorino Romano. Whichever you choose, make sure you use a genuine imported Italian cheese.
Technique tip: It used to be that to experience corn at its peak sweetness, you had to source it locally in August. While this is still best, new corn varieties, such as American Dream (a late-maturing variety) and Kickoff XR (an early-maturing variety), make it possible to enjoy sweet corn almost anywhere almost year-round.
Special equipment: Can be grilled over charcoal, gas or wood. You'll also need butcher's string (optional); a sheet of aluminum foil folded in thirds like a business letter to make a grill shield to protect the husks; a rimmed sheet pan; and insulated gloves or a stiff-bristled brush.
- vegetable oil, for oiling the grill grate
- 4 ears sweet corn, in the husk
- 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
- 1 clove garlic, peeled and minced
- 4 basil leaves, cut into thin slivers
- coarse salt (sea or kosher) and freshly ground black pepper
- 3/4 cup freshly and finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Pecorino Romano cheese
Set up your grill for direct grilling and heat to high. Brush or scrape the grill grate clean and oil it well.2.
Meanwhile, husk the corn: Cut the tapered ends off and strip back the husk as though you were peeling a banana. Strip them all the way back so you expose the entire ear, including the last inch at the bottom. Tie the husks back with butcher's string — the idea is to make a handle for eating the corn. Alternatively, use one or two strips of husk to tie off the handle. Pull off and discard any silk (the fine filaments between the husk and the ear). Skip this step if your corn comes already husked.3.
Melt the butter in a small saucepan. Stir in the garlic and basil, and cook over medium-high heat until fragrant, but not brown, about 2 minutes.4.
Lightly brush the corn on all sides with the garlic-basil butter and season with salt and pepper. Arrange the ears on the grate, sliding the foil grill shield under the tied-back husks to keep them from burning. Grill the corn until the kernels are darkly browned, rotating the ears every minute or so to ensure the ears cook evenly. You may hear some popcorn-like crackling — cool! Baste the corn with more garlic-basil butter as it grills. Total cooking time will be 8-12 minutes.5.
Transfer the corn to a platter or plates and brush one final time with the garlic-basil butter. Sprinkle the corn on all sides with the grated cheese and dig in.
Excerpted from "How to Grill Vegetables" by Steven Raichlen, photographs by Steven Randazzo. Workman Publishing © 2021.